empathy

A Church Fit For A King

Standing tall in a quiet corner of Kreuzberg is a church like no other I have seen before. An imposing mass of concrete moulded in the severe yet elegant Brutalist style, St. Agnes is a design world away from its neighboring churches, which are much more conventional in appearance. Built between 1964 and 1967 by architect Werner Düttmann, the church fell into disuse in 2004 before being bought by Berlin gallery owner Johann König in 2012, who will convert it into a gallery––a true Berlinesque reuse of space that makes you appreciate your surroundings just that little bit more. 

Anonymous Architects

The first exhibition before the redevelopment into the gallery’s new exhibition space is “Public Works – Architecture by Civil Servants.” Nowhere near as dry as the name suggests, the show is dedicated to the unsung heroes of architecture, the civil servants of the 1960s and 1970s who designed many incredible buildings yet garnered no recognition.

St. AgnesImposing: St. Agnes, located in Kreuzberg. Photo: Chris Phillips 

One of the creators of the show from OMA, Laura Baird, explains how the young architects of the period were in a unique position––on the one hand they were offered large budgets and responsibility, but this was at the cost of any public recognition. Instead, all of the public buildings created by civil servants in that time period were marked with a plaque that simply credited the council the architect worked for.

International (Non) Recognition

On display in the cavernous main exhibition space are a range of these “anonymous” buildings from around the world, their creation and demise documented by blueprints and photographs. Although many of the buildings have now been demolished, their memory lives on through black and white photographs capturing their existence, remembering times they were a part of the community. Of all the photographs on show I find the ones of London, my old home, the most interesting––relics of the past boasting the familiar outlines of the Hayward Gallery or Pimlico Academy. Additionally, the unfamiliar photographs of, for example, the Quartiere Sant’Ambrogio in Milan are equally as interesting to me, documenting the unusually shaped neighborhood and church by Arrigo Arrighetti.

St Agnes Reflective: architect Thomas Schneider who is helping transform St. Agnes. Photo: Frans Parthesius

Standing proudly in their glass cases, the images on show highlight the beautiful in the everyday, the things we take for granted. In a space as imposing as St. Agnes it is hard not to think about the building itself, along with its use and its creation, but with other buildings to which we are regularly exposed we are not so thoughtful. If there is one thing I have taken away from this exhibition it is to acknowledge (even if only silently) the talent that goes into the design of the everyday. 

  • St. Agnes – “Public Works – Architecture by Civil Servants” – Until April 14th 2013 – Wednesday – Sunday: 11am – 6pm [Admission €5, Concessions €3]

Article by Marie J Burrows